Many non-horse people look at a horse and just say “yup, that’s a horse, with a “bridal.”” There’s definitely a lot of confusion in the non-horse world about how a bridle works, as evidenced by the appalling kids toys that show up in my house.
But even in the horse world, there’s SO MANY different kinds of bridles. Some bridles are for one thing, and some bridles aren’t allowed in that one thing, and others are the ONLY bridle allowed in that thing. It can be a lot. How do you even pick the right one?
If you’ve owned for a long time, then yeah, you probably know and likely have a nice collection going. But if you haven’t, it’s a mess of different beautiful leather pieces, tumbling over each other like a swam of locust. Here’s a guide to help you select the one you need, and, as a bonus, learn why different bridles are so different.
Snaffle bridle is the general term for any bridle used with just a single bit. It is by far the most commonly used type of bridle as it is extremely versatile. It’s used in competition, recreation riding, trail riding, starting young horses and basically any kind of riding. You control the horse with the bit, which applies pressure to the horse’s mouth and to a lesser extent, some pressure to the horse’s poll.
Snaffle bridles typically have nosebands, unless you’re like me and you lost it and can’t find it, but most people use them. The noseband has a few purposes: it can stop the horse from opening its mouth and it’s where the standing martingale attaches (if used). There’s a few different nosebands depending on what kind of assistance the horse needs.
Different disciplines have slightly different bridles that distinguish them from each other. Let’s go over the differences.
Hunter Bridles refers to bridles that would be used in show hunters (so, not foxhunters.) Hunter classes have rules about what kind of tack is allowed. Bridles are brown in color, elegant, and not flashy. Flashy is not a good look in hunters. But it is acceptable for some fancy stitching or raised leather pieces. The ideal is a “modest” look.
This look is suitable for hunters (obviously) but it’s also suitable for basically everything else, too. You could easily use this look for most everything you could ever do with horses. This is the “standard” look, you could say.
But, hunters is picky and this is the only type of bridle allowed in show classes, so don’t bring your fancy nosebands and blinged out bridles into hunters.
Fox Hunting Bridle
A spin-off of the hunter bridle (or, more realistically, the hunter bridle is a spin off of this) is the hunting bridle. This bridle is used out in the field (of fox hunting).
What makes it different? It is plain, in every sense. The leather cavesson is completely flat and wide with a simple browband, it’s standard “brown,” and there is no bling at all. No glitter, no decoration, nothing.
While you’ll definitely see this bridle in the hunt field, it has started making an appearance back in the show ring. Everything old becomes new again…
Dressage bridles are traditionally black, coordinated with black dressage saddles, but occasionally you’ll see brown. They typically have wider leather than hunter bridles, are padded, and the nosebands might be crank style. It’s trendy to have some blind, so lots of dressage bridles have contrasting leather, rhinestones or decorative metal.
Dressage bridles frequently have flash nosebands, which is mainly to keep a loose ring bit still in the horse’s mouth.
Eventing/Jumper/Combined Training Bridle
This type of bridle is very similar to the dressage bridle (and is allowed in dressage classes) but it usually comes in brown, the leather is thinner, and it doesn’t usually have a crank noseband, just a standard one.
They also have the flash noseband, but their intention is to keep the horse’s mouth shut as to not evade the bit.
It could be used for all three phases of eventing, or sometimes people just use this for the jumping portions. It is also used in jumpers, or really anything except hunters, which would not allow a flash. If you took off the flash though, you’d be good.
Figure 8 Bridle
The figure 8 refers to the noseband piece, the rest of the bridle is pretty standard. Figure 8’s have an extended noseband pieces which attaches high on the face below the jowls, and down below the bit. It’s similar to the flash noseband design, if the flash noseband got stretched out. This design is meant to keep the horse’s mouth closed, like a flash, but also to allow more airflow through the nose.
You would typically see these kinds of bridles in an intense competition that involves speed and/or high jumps, they aren’t really needed for typical recreation riding… unless you just think they’re really cool. Which I did, which is why I own a figure 8 bridle. Do I ever use it? No, not in the last ten years. And I didn’t even need it ten years ago, either.
This type of bridle has been designed to follow the contours of the horse in an effort to reduce nerve points, offer a greater range of movement, and be a more comfortable experience for the horse. There’s more padding, and the straps are in different spots.
Ergonomic bridles have grown in popularity, and are widely accepted in competition… except for hunters.
Weymouth or Double Bridle
As the name suggests, a double bridle as two bits. Yes, two bits in the horse’s mouth at one time.
They are usually only seen in upper level dressage, and are actually ONLY allowed in upper level dressage. You need to have a very skilled set of hands to handle the double reins or you could really mess up the horse.
The intention of the double bridle is to have more finesse, which definitely makes sense when you’re talking about competing in dressage.
There are also double bridles used in saddleseat.
Aptly named, bitless bridles have no bit. They are designed to apply pressure to different points of the horse’s face in place of using mouth pressure.
Bitless bridles are used if a horse has a sensitive mouth, injury, teeth issues, or sometimes behavioral issues. Sometimes riders feel that their horse will just be more comfortable without a bit. It can be a personal choice, or a required choice, depending on the horse.
The huge variety of bridles offers many choices for riders, whether it is based on performance, behavioral, economic or stylistic goals. Even within the different categories, there’s a huge range of leather, color, and design options, meaning you are sure to find the perfect bridle.
More on horse equipment